I Am Not a Teacher

Yesterday I realized that I had completely neglected this blog in the last frenzied month of church preparations for Pascha and my last-ever grad school project: an online portfolio with more hoops than an 18th-century petticoat. Sorry, everyone (all four of you!)  I’m still too brain-dead for new material, but you might enjoy this piece I wrote for the Philosophy of Education section of my portfolio.  I was feeling a little rebellious and not very philosophical when I wrote it, but hey, maybe that will make me stand out:

I am not a teacher. I am a B-grade comic, telling jokes that swoop over my audience’s head, waiting patiently for the punch line to sink in and sometimes stooping so low as to explain the irony for the momentary pleasure of their laughter.  Enduring mostly-good-natured heckling because really, any attention is better than no attention when you’re trying to drag a class by its recalcitrant heels through the murky depths of Shakespeare.  Ignoring Fred Jones’ advice and bopping till I drop, day after day: playing silly video clips, exposing my ignorance of pop culture and enduring barrages of personal questions (Did you ever get in trouble in school? What does your husband do?  Do you like our class the best?) in an effort to win their amusement and, by extension, their attention.

I am not a teacher; more often I am a grizzled police officer worn down by my own optimism.  Excuse me, ma’am?  Do you know how late that homework assignment is?  Well, I hate to do it, but I’m going to have to write you up.  Ten percent per day.  Oh, I know I’ll hear from your mother about this, but the law is the law, and I’m bound to protect and serve.  To protect you from mediocrity, from indolence and the deadly threat of just skating by – from yourselves and the society that seeks to possess you.  And to serve you with justice, the stomach-tightening justice of knowing you were wrong and the sweet elation of doing it right, on time, in spite of all the other responsibilities and commitments you had to fulfill last night and this morning.  I can sniff out a wandering eye during a test and an intimidating eyeroll during a group project, and both will incur my wrath.  Be fair.  Be kind.  Or else.

I am not a teacher: I am your secretary. I will post grades and administer make-up quizzes and attend required meetings even when they are hopelessly irrelevant.  I will fill out forms and make you fill out forms and file the forms against some unnamed future day of reckoning.  I will remind you two or three or sixteen times about which assignments are due; I will repeat myself even when I have sworn not to; I will keep track of who is in the bathroom and who is at the nurse’s and who just got diagnosed with a learning disability and needs to take her tests in Guidance, and who can’t take her test at all because she just whacked her head in the bathroom and feels dizzy, or left her books at home and – no, please, no tears – just can’t do it today, Mrs. Lowe, please

In fact, if anything I am a psychologist, drying the tears of self-discovery and double-crossing the more wily among you who won’t go down without a fight.  I can trick you into enjoying the act of revision.  I can guilt you into a grudging respect for the Dark Romantics.  I hear your prayers for one another and the whole world; I see your defeated faces when you’ve just failed a quiz; I understand your frustration with the SAT and your parents and global warming, all buttressed by rising estrogen levels.  We talk about whose fault it is when a student doesn’t know the answers, and sometimes it’s mine.  We close our eyes and imagine a long staircase, count down the steps to enter the office of your brain, open the right drawer and folder and spread out the impressions and notes and then walk back up, open our eyes and KNOW we are ready for the test.  We overcome shyness in front of a group, and your smile after you’ve haltingly spit out your four index cards about the literary devices in Bret Harte’s short story is more engulfing than a sumo wrestler’s hug (that would be a simile of sorts, but you don’t have to keep track since it was mine.)

I am not a teacher but a student myself: I learn from you every day what never to do (leave the room, even for half a minute) what to save for special days (food and the computer lab, but not together) and what to do over and over again (smile and be patient.)  I attend classes on my own even when not required, hoping that by learning French or Byzantine notation I can put myself back in your shoes long enough to understand you, and thus to reach you more fully.  I tell my own stories of late-night papers and last-minute projects, yawn-inducing professors and grades that I totally did not deserve: after my class, grad school will be a picnic.

I am not a teacher.  How could I be?  That would mean I am somehow worthy of the sweet (and sour) faces and clear (and cluttered) minds that fill the seats in front of me, day after day – that I can be trusted to lead them in the right way with loving firmness, to give them a (proverbial!) slap in the face when they need it and a cautious pat on the back when they don’t.  (Touching is not recommended, not for liability reasons but because it is guaranteed to bring tears, and then it’s back to the couch for a heart-to-heart instead of grading those vocab quizzes and making up a rubric for the next class’ presentation.) 

I am not a teacher, but I will do whatever I can to make sure you get an education.  And I will hope and pray that it was enough.